An update on Elephant survival: Nature in Focus
This week I look at the state of Elephant survival, the good news and the bad.
Elephant survival is a hot topic at Eco Companion, we actively promote Elephant Tours and projects involving Elephant conservation, so this week I’m taking an in-depth look at the current state of play.
“No one in the world needs an elephant tusk but an elephant.”
Elephants – the largest land mammal on Earth. Living up to 70 years old, weighing up to 6,000kg, and measuring up to 6.5m in length, these gentle giants have roamed the earth for thousands of years. Belonging to the family Elephantidae in the order Proboscidea, Elephants are divided into two groups – the African Elephant and the Asian Elephant. Of these two groups, there consists several subspecies – the African Elephant with the Savannah Elephant and Forest Elephant, and the Asian Elephant with the Sri Lankan, Indian, Sumatran and Borneo Elephants respectively. While their phylogeny, natural history, and ecology is well studied, predictable, and established – their future isn’t. Nature in Focus takes a more somber and serious tone this week as we update our readers on the plight, poaching, and progress of Elephant populations worldwide.
It is no secret, when it comes to the current state-of-affairs, with regards to the Elephant and its fight for survival. For example, numbering in the 10s of thousands just 20 years ago, the population of Asian Elephants of Myanmar, has been cut down to just around 1,800 because of the devastating impact of a lucrative illegal ivory trade. In addition to ivory, elephant skin is now a leading cause of poaching and death, as many reports indicate that poachers are targeting Elephants for their skin to be used as jewelry and a cure for eczema.
Additionally, we see the negative impacts from habitat loss across all groups of elephants, as more and more habitat corridors are being severed by human development, habitat fragmentation and the creation of more roads and societal infrastructure. This in turn, results in more and more Human-Elephant-Conflict (HEC) in Africa and Asia. For example, numbering around 1.2million in the late 1970s, African Elephants now number only around 35,000. Additionally, human deaths caused by Elephants have been increasing for years – as humans move deeper and deeper into Elephant habitat – and as a result local populations oftentimes exact revenge, killing 100s of Elephants a year out of fear or anger.
However, there are some bright spots to report. Just last month, the UK government imposed a near-total ban on all ivory products, following the lead of the US’s near-total ban. Additionally, Hong Kong and China have pledged to follow suite with their own bans. More signs of encouragement include the one-year anniversary of Sir Lanka’s EleFriendly Bus program which aims at providing public transportation through ‘high-use Elephant corridors’, aimed at lowering Human-Elephant-Conflict levels, and ultimately decreasing reprisal killings by locals. It all ads up to a potential boost for Elephant survival which is definitely a good thing.
Furthermore, as we saw this past weekend, a Chinese philanthropist donated $1.5billion towards funding conservation projects for both the Elephant (and Snow Leopard), signaling a new shift in environmental issues that may further help African and Asian Elephants. Additionally, we see that Uganda is investing heavily in anti-poaching security forces which already have drastically reduced the poaching impact to Elephant populations – (as well as the Mountain Gorilla). Uganda has benefited greatly from a growing and lucrative wildlife tourism industry, and plans on bolstering it, as they took in $1.3billion from tourism in 2016.